China’s telecom giant ZTE is reportedly trying to reach a deal to plead guilty to US criminal charges and avoid a hefty fine over allegations that it dodged US sanctions in its previous Iran transactions.
Reuters quoted a person familiar with the matter as saying that the Chinese company was negotiating over the deal with the US Department of Commerce, the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Treasury.
The report added that no immediate resolution over the case could be reached at the current juncture given the change in administration in the White House.
ZTE’s payment could amount to hundreds of millions, Reuters quoted its source as saying.
One of the world’s biggest telecommunications gear makers and the No. 4 smartphone vendor in the United States, ZTE sells handset devices to U.S. mobile carriers AT&T Inc, T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp. It relies on U.S. companies including Qualcomm, Microsoft and Intel for components.
The Commerce Department released alleged internal documents last year, showing senior ZTE executives instructing the company to carry out a project for dodging export controls in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.
ZTE replaced the senior executives allegedly involved, including naming a new president, and also appointed a new, US-based chief export compliance officer. The Shenzhen-based company has a US subsidiary in Richardson, Texas.
The implications of a guilty plea are unclear. Experts said it can result in a denial order, which imposes a complete bar on the receipt of US origin goods and technology. But, as part of a settlement, the order could be suspended for years, Reuters added.
Typically, the reputational taint of a guilty plea on US suppliers or customers would be limited in duration, according to Washington attorney Douglas Jacobson, an export controls and sanctions expert.
A settlement also would likely include the imposition of a compliance monitor, experts have told Reuters.